Syllabus for an online “Introduction to Latin American Studies” course

This winter I am teaching an “Introduction to Latin American Studies” course in a fully online format. In order to create a sense of community, I have scaffolded a number of assignments around a slideshow presentation that students will upload in the final week, which will entail students sharing their work throughout the course. I have no text assigned for the course. Instead, I have assigned articles accessed through permanent links to the library database, while the videos are accessed through the streaming video feature of my university library. Please note that for this reason almost all links in this syllabus will not work for people outside the Portland State University system. I hope that this syllabus gives some of you ideas as you work on your own syllabi. I also want to thank Christine Boyle, whose own outstanding syllabi and course inspired my own class.

If you are interested in Latin America, you might also wish to see my own book on military terror in Brazil.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

Global Perspectives: Latin America

University Studies, UNST 233/INTL 240

A fully online class


Professor Smallman                                            Graduate mentor: TBA

Rm. 345, East Hall

Phone: 503-725-99XX



Office Hours: Monday 1-3pm using Google Chat.




With Latinos/as now the largest minority group in the United States, and Brazil’s economy larger than Britain’s, Latin America is attracting considerable attention in the United States. While its people struggle to preserve the region’s artistic, literary and cultural heritage, Latin America also is experiencing rapid political and economic change. This class explores the rich diversity of peoples, histories and cultures that together define Latin America, from the Caribbean to the Southern Cone. This class will also give you a foundation from which to choose classes in the Global Studies cluster, if you decide to pursue it. Bienvenidos! Sejam Bemvindo!


Class Format and Requirements:

There are no regular class sessions for online classes. Instead, the course is organized around the weekly class activities – mainly the Discussion Boards and Quizzes. These activities will be evaluated based on the students’ ability to demonstrate they have completed the assigned readings (or other assigned materials). Therefore, it is essential that students complete reading assignments prior to partaking in the online discussions (discussion boards and mentor sections). In general, students should plan on spending about eight hours a week dedicated to course readings and participation in the weekly activities and assignments. This is equivalent to the time requirements for the on-campus Intro to Latin American Studies SINQ.


Expectations for Online Students


The online format is a new form of university learning and requires personal discipline to succeed. Time management is a major factor in online success. Students should follow these basic rules:

  1. Block out time for your online class.
  2. Set your personal weekly times for “attending” your online class, just like when you attend a campus class.
  3. You should reserve the time that you would budget both to attend a regular format class, plus study time.
  4. ALWAYS, start on your work early in case of a computer problem; don’t wait until the last moment.


Accessing D2L:

To access D2L, go to the To login, enter your odin ID and your odin password. If you do not have an odin account, or are not sure what your odin ID or password is, go to or contact the Information Technology Help Desk ( or 725-HELP. For D2L help in person, please go to the 2nd floor computer lab in the Broadway building. All assignments will be submitted in D2L.

Communication with the Faculty Member

Please e-mail me directly rather than through D2L. Please feel free to contact me for further clarification of the assignments, if you have questions about the materials, or if you have personal concerns that will affect your academic performance. I make every effort to respond to email in 48 hours. If you have lengthy or complex questions, we can arrange a phone call or Google Chat.




All the course readings are available online through course content. There are no books to buy for this course.


Basis for Grade:


Map Quiz (10% of the final grade):

Students will take an online map quiz, which will be due at the end of the second week. Students will need to learn all the countries of Latin America. They will also be asked to locate the Andes Mountains as well as the Amazon and Orinoco rivers.


Reading and Video Quizzes (40% of the final grade): Students will complete brief reading quizzes on D2L throughout the term as indicated on the syllabus. Quizzes will cover readings and other online material, including videos. Quizzes should be completed no later than 11:59pm on Tuesday. Different students may have different questions for the quiz, based on their group in the class. The typical quiz will be a question that will entail a two to three paragraph response to the reading and video, although there may be some multiple choice quizzes as well. You will not know the format in advance. You will have 90 minutes for each response. You may have only one attempt to take the quiz. If something so important comes up that you are unable to complete the quiz, please contact the professor. There are ten quizzes in total, as there is one each week.

Please disable all pop-up blockers before taking a quiz. If you write a quiz response in Word, and then cut and paste the response into the quiz, please be certain to save the document before submitting it. It is your responsibility to confirm that your quiz was submitted, and to check your quiz grades every week.

On-line Discussion (20% of the final grade): Every Monday I will post a question to the discussion board. The goal of this is to facilitate an academic community that engages in an online conversation. The class will be divided into small discussion groups of five to six students. Every week you will have to respond to my post by Wednesday at 11:59 (150-200 words), and to another student’s post (100-150 words) by Friday at 11:59pm. While I will provide a question to start the conversation, students are also allowed to post on another question that interests them, to raise an issue for the reading, or to share related material to the class. In other words, you don’t have to always respond to the instructor’s question, which is only meant to start a conversation. Every week, one person in each discussion group will be asked to volunteer to briefly summarize key points from the discussion in a “group share” section of the discussion board, which can be read by the entire class. Every student must do this once during the course, and doing this twice will result in bonus points for the final discussion grade.

Students are expected to demonstrate, at all times, academic integrity and respect for others. Posts that do not meet this standard will not be given any credit, and will impact a student’s overall discussion grade.


Latin American Culture Project (30%):

Students will produce a slideshow (ie. Powerpoint or similar program) regarding a particular form of Latin American music, art, film or literature, which they will share with the class as a whole. Students may focus on a particular genre, or an individual artist. Students do not need to worry if another student chooses the same topic; it is inevitable that the same genre will interest more than one person in the class.

One goal of this project is to create an online community, even though it is an individual project. For this reason, students will share the work and give feedback by posting materials in their discussion groups by key dates outlined in the syllabus. In week ten students will share what they create with the class (through the group-share feature of the discussion board), which will be the culmination of the course.


University Studies: Many students will be taking this course as a University Studies class, to fulfill their general education requirements. “Introduction to Latin American Studies” is one of the general education courses you may choose to take following Freshman Inquiry. If you transferred to PSU as a sophomore this may be your first University Studies course. Introduction to Latin American Studies is followed by a number of other courses, in a cluster called “Global Perspectives.” If you decide to continue into this cluster, you would choose three courses within the cluster, after completing this course. Of the several University Studies general education goals, we will focus on extending your communication skills, both written and oral, the diversity of the human experience as well as critical thinking.


Global Perspectives Cluster
Description:Through exploring the interplay between contemporary political, economic, environmental, and cultural systems, this cluster aims to introduce students to the diversity of Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East.  Drawing on perspectives from the humanities and social sciences, students will develop skills and attitudes to function as “global citizens.”
Learning Objectives:

  • Demonstrate knowledge of the forces of modernity, nationalism, colonialism, imperialism and globalization
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the perspectives, attitudes, and beliefs of another culture and region
  • Understand how history, culture and geography inform a region’s present situation
  • Appreciate the diversity and interconnectedness of human experience that frame contemporary political, economic and social interactions


Late policy: Quizzes must be done by the due date, after which the quiz is closed. It is also important to do the discussion posts the week that they are due, because they are part of a conversation. If you post late your peers are not reading what you write, which undermines the goal of building an online academic community. For this reason, the discussion board is closed at the end of every week, and late posts are not accepted. For the Culture Project there will be a late penalty of five percent for every day that they are late, including weekends.


Academic Integrity and Plagiarism:

Academic integrity is essential to learning, especially in an online setting. Plagiarism is the submission of another person’s work as your own, such as by having someone else write your quiz response or discussion post. It is also a serious academic crime. Any instance of plagiarism will result in an automatic “O” for that assignment, for both the person who submitted the assignment, and the person who helped them. The student(s) may also be referred to the Dean of Students.


Disability: Any student who has a disability that may require some special arrangements in order to fulfill the course requirements should contact the Disability Resource Center at the start of the course to make appropriate arrangements. The DRC is located in 116 Smith Memorial Student Union, and their phone number is (503) 725-4150.


Course Schedule:


True academic inquiry must proceed at its own pace. Accordingly, the order of these topics may be changed, and we may not cover all of them. But we will begin by discussing Latin American culture and art, followed by key aspects of Latin American society and history.


Please note that some videos are easier to view on computers than on tablets. If you leave town for a weekend, you may want to check that the assigned movies play on your tablet before you leave, or to bring a laptop. You will need to sign in with your odin ID before watching the movies.


Week One: The Music of Latin America



Audio Introduction to the class by Professor Smallman.

View: Map of Latin America

Watch: Rebel Music Americas

PBS Video Collection: The Chicano Wave


Lea Ramsdell, “Cuban Hip-Hop Goes Global: Orishas `A lo cubano’” Latin American Music Review. 33:1 (Spring/Summer 2012), 102-123.

Geoffrey Baker, “Cuba Rebellion: Underground Music in Havana,” Latin American Music Review. 32:1 (Spring/Summer 2011), 1-38.

Do: Research a possible topic for the Culture project.

Complete the online quiz by 11:59pm on Tuesday

Do your first discussion post by Wednesday at 11:59, and respond to another student by Friday at 11:59.


Week Two: Literature


Borges Short Stories:

The Aleph

Borges and I

The South

Peter Robb, Magnificent Machado

Two Stories by Clarice Lispector, Translated by Elizabeth Bishop.

Smallman blog post: “Cultural Globalization and Canada


21st Century Trends in Latin American Literature

Fire and Ink: Pre-Columbian LiteratureDo:

Complete the online quiz by 11:59pm on Tuesday.

Do your discussion post by Wednesday at 11:59, and respond to another student by Friday at 11:59.

Select a Topic for the Culture Project by Friday at 5pm. Teams will be selected based on topic.

Complete the map quiz by 11:59pm on Friday.


Week Three: Indigenous Peoples



Massimo Livi-Bacci, “Depopulation of Hispanic America after the Spanish Conquest.” Population and Development Review, 32: 2 (2006): 199-232.


PBS Video Collection: When Worlds Collide: The Untold Story of the Americas After Columbus

Docuseek 2: 10th Parallel

Do: Complete the online quiz by 11:59pm on Tuesday

Do your discussion post by Wednesday at 11:59, and respond to another student by Friday at 11:59.

Finalize your proposal, which consists of your research topic and learning outcomes (what you want your audience to learn) for your culture project. Share these with your online group, which will be formed this week.


Week Four: Race and African Legacies

Read: Fuente, “Race and Inequality in Cuba” Journal of Contemporary History, 1995, 131- 165.

Watch: PBS Video Collection, Haiti & Dominican Republic- Black in Latin America

Do: Complete the online quiz by 11:59pm on Tuesday

Do your discussion post by Wednesday at 11:59, and respond to another student by Friday at 11:59.

Read and comment on other students’ Culture Project proposals.


Week Five: Religion, Ritual and Folklore

Read: Smallman blog post: “The Lost Island of Bermeja”

Pamela Jones, “There Was a Woman : La Llorona in Oregon.” Western Folklore, Vol. 47, No. 3 (Jul., 1988), pp. 195-211

Wikipedia: Our Lady of Guadelupe

Wikipedia: Santa Muerte


El Favor de los Santos

Days of the Dead: A living tradition

Do: Complete the online quiz by 11:59pm on Tuesday

Do your discussion post by Wednesday at 11:59, and respond to another student by Friday at 11:59.

Complete a literature review for your culture project. Post a bibliography of eight to ten sources on your team site.


Week Six: Immigration


Roberto G. Gonzales. 2011. “Learning to be Illegal: Undocumented Youth and Shifting Legal Contexts in the Transition to Adulthood.” American Sociological Review 76(4): 602-219.

Dreby, Joanna. 2012. “The Burden of Deportation on Children in Mexican Immigrant Families.”

Journal of Marriage and Family 74: 829-45.


Coyote: An Immigration Case Study

Borderless: the lives of undocumented workers

Do: Complete the online quiz by 11:59pm on Tuesday

Do your discussion post by Wednesday at 11:59, and respond to another student by Friday at 11:59.

Work on your Culture Project. Do a check-in with your group about your work.


Week Seven: War, Violence and Latin American Militaries



  1. McSherry, “Tracking the origins of a state terror network: Operation Condor,” Latin American Perspectives, 29:1 (2002): 38-60

Vanessa Walker, “At the end of Influence: The Letelier Assassination” 46:1 (2011), 109-35

Marcon, Glafira A. (2013) “Does Brazil Have the Right to Truth?,” The Macalester Review: Vol. 3: Iss. 2, Article 8.

Smallman blog post: “Egypt’s Military and the Latin American experience”


PBS Video: The War We are Living

Do: Complete the online quiz by 11:59pm on Tuesday

Do your discussion post by Wednesday at 11:59, and respond to another student by Friday at 11:59.

You should have a rough draft of your Culture Project complete this week.


Week Eight: Drugs

View: the Powerpoint presentation on the Brazilian Drug Trade


Michael Osborne, “More Than a Mexican Problem,” Small Wars Journal

Smallman, blog post on “Decriminalizing Drugs in the Americas”

Guardian article on crack in Brazil.

DW, “Mexico fighting an endless war against cartels.”

Watch: Mama Coca’s War: How the War on Drugs Impacts Latin America

Do: Complete the online quiz by 11:59pm on Tuesday

Do your discussion post by Wednesday at 11:59, and respond to another student by Friday at 11:59.

Share a rough draft of your project with your group by Monday at 5pm. View and comment upon the projects of the other people in your group by the weekend.


Week Nine: The Environment


Urkidi, Leire, and Mariana Walter. “Dimensions of environmental justice in anti-gold mining movements in Latin America.” Geoforum 42.6 (2011): 683-695.

Vince, Gaia. “Dams for Patagonia.” Science 329.5990 (2010): 382-385.


Films on Demand: Honduras Log on

PBS Video Collection: Bogota- Building a Sustainable City

Do: Complete the online quiz by 11:59pm on Tuesday.

Do your discussion post by Wednesday at 11:59, and respond to another student by Friday at 11:59.

Revise your Culture project based on feedback from your group.


Week Ten: Viewing Culture Projects


Do: upload your project by Sunday at 11:59 pm.

View: the online presentations and materials for the Culture Project. You should view the ten projects that most interest you.

Do: Complete the online quiz by 11:59pm on Tuesday. The quiz will be based on the Culture Project.

Do your discussion post by Wednesday at 11:59, and respond to another student by Friday at 11:59.

The discussion question will focus on the Culture Projects.


There is no final exam in this course. Enjoy the break.


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